May 23, 2017
Backpack trips in the Sierra Nevadas
I have now done 30 backpacks in the Sierra
(over a span of more than 30 years) and spent well over 100 days
backpacking and hiking the High Sierra.
Over the years, I have covered almost all of the John Muir Trail as well as the Sierra High Route.
I have done each bit by bit in sections and heartily endorse this way of doing things.
These are very different endeavors. The Sierra High Route is for people who are at least
50 percent mountaineer.
- Pine Creek and Gable Creek - 1971 (no photos)
- Rock Creek - 1973 (?) (no photos)
- Bishop Pass - 1989 (?) (no photos)
- Whitney 1 - 1990 (no photos)
- Whitney 2 - 1992 ? (no photos)
- Taboose Pass - 2004
- Evolution Region - 2006
- Evolution Region - 2006 (OLD)
- Taboose Pass - 2009
- Pine Creek and Mt. Humphreys - 2010
- Shepherd Pass - 2011 (big snow year)
- Lone Pine Creek, Mt. Russell - 2011
- Rae Lakes Loop - 2011
- Sierra High Route, above Pine Creek - July, 2012
- Sierra High Route, North - August, 2012
- Kearsarge Pass - July, 2013
- Bishop Pass - August, 2013
- Kearsarge to Whitney - September, 2013
- Tuolumne to Yosemite - July, 2014
- Amphitheater Lake - August, 2014
- Sawmill Pass - October, 2014
- JMT and Fire! - September, 2015
- Kearsarge Pass - June, 2016
- Baxter Pass (and Telescope Peak) - July, 2016
- Shepherd Pass, Mt. Whitney - September, 2017
- Amanda's Loop - July, 2018
- Sawmill Pass to Bench Lake - August, 2018
- Kearsarge Pass and Charlotte Lake - August, 2019
- Gardiner Basin - July, 2020
- Kearsarge Pass roaming - July, 2021
My special interests that is. These have changed and mutated over time.
In my young days, mountaineering filled my mind, but increasingly just wandering,
exploring remote places, and identifying wildflowers has become more important.
First there was the JMT, then the SHR gained some popularity in certain circles.
Now other "routes" are being promoted. One of particular interest is a southerly
extension of the SHR (since not everyone wants to exit west to roads end).
You would be crazy to go on a hike in the Sierra without a map.
Without a doubt, the best are the maps by
Tom Harrison Maps.
They are printed on some kind of waterproof plastic material and
are indispensible. Along with them I will sometimes print more
detailed (1:24000 scale) maps of areas of specific interest.
If you get to looking at the maps done by the USGS, you will be dismayed to
discover that some have elevations in feet, and others have elevations in meters.
In general the more recent maps have elevations in meters and are inferior to the
older maps (as well as being an infernal nuisance). Here is a table of feet to
meter to conversions that I find handy:
|7000 feet||2133 meters|
|8000 feet||2438 meters|
|9000 feet||2743 meters|
|10000 feet||3048 meters|
|11000 feet||3352 meters|
|12000 feet||3657 meters|
|13000 feet||3962 meters|
|14000 feet||4267 meters|
Weather (and when to go)
See my page on Sierra weather.
An interesting recommendation (from Porcella and Burns excellent guidebook
"Climbing Californias Fourteeners") is:
We have found 0-degree fahrenheit bags to be the minimum for "under the stars"
comfort during the summer.
This sounds extreme, but matches my personal experience pretty well.
If you are in a tent or have a metabolism like a steel-mill you can
make adjustments accordingly.
In winter, a bag rated at -20 to -30 degrees
Fahrenheit should be taken for these mountains.
Summer weather in the sierra is typically excellent with low temperatures
in the thirties (but temperatures in the twenties are by no means unusual at
elevations from 10,000 to 12,000 which is where I often find myself camping.)
Tabulating 26 of my trips, I find that three months get most of my attention:
May and June -- 2 trips
July -- 7
August -- 9
September -- 7
October -- 1
I want to do more trips early season (i.e. June) in order to be in the
mountains when snow is melting, streams are rushing, mosquitos and
wildflowers are at their peak!
The following three forums are probably your most useful sources of information.
The first two focus on the ever popular activity of climbing Mt. Whitney from the Portal,
but an experienced Sierra hiker can extrapolate those conditions to other areas in
Note that I do not include the parks or forest service as useful sources of information.
Backcountry information on their websites is generally badly out of date and
heavily "dumbed down".
My notes on driving from Tucson.
There is something called the CREST bus.
Apparently It runs from Ridgecrest to Reno or
something like that, so it could be really handy
for certain shuttle type things.
What I am told is that it heads south on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (leaving Lone Pine at 10AM).
It goes north on Tuesday and Thursday (leaving Lone Pine at 6AM).
Another recommended option is:
The Mt. Whitney Shuttle Service
Shuttle Service for the Eastern Sierra
P.O. Drawer A, Lone Pine, CA 93545
Tel: 760-876-1915 best time to call: evenings (Pacific Time)
or send mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bears, and critters
Because of the number of people eager to climb the highest point (14,496 feet) in the 48 states,
there are special issues and rules about the Whitney Trail.
The powers that be have defined a "Whitney Zone" within which these rules apply.
A lottery must be entered to get a permit to enter the zone. As with all
such things, these rules change continually, and you ought to verify each year that what I say is so,
and if what was true last year is still so. At this time, you obtain and fill out a lottery application,
which must be postmarked sometime in February. Note that they begin processing applications mid-month,
so if you are really serious, you want to mail your application as early as possible in February, not
at the end of the month like I did in 2010. Expect results in April sometime.
The relevant page for all of this is:
Note that 100 day use permits are issued each day, along with 60 permits for overnight use each day,
along with 25 permits per day for "trail crest" (from the west). In other words this is the most heavily
used area in the Sierra backcountry, and you should not expect wilderness solitude.
Because of the hassle involved, and the heavy use in this area,
I avoid the Whitney area and plan trips elsewhere.
Links and nice pages
Have any comments? Questions?
Drop me a line!
Tom's hiking pages / email@example.com